Southampton 2016/17 Season Preview: Can Puel build on Koeman's success?

The Saints have had three managers in four seasons but fans are hopeful of more success.

Southampton 2016/17 Season Preview: Can Puel build on Koeman's success?
Photo: Cammy Anderson/VAVEL

Southampton failed to hold on to Ronald Koeman this summer, as he favoured a move to Premier League rivals Everton and it is now the job of Claude Puel to take over and continue with the growth of the South Coast outfit. 

The Saints have risen one place every year over the past three seasons and last season's sixth place finish leaves fans excited about the campaign that lies ahead. 

Last season was another good one

As the season ended back in May, many fans expected Koeman to lead the club into the start of the next campaign. Fans would have been forgiven for thinking that if Koeman was to leave, it would be for a club like Barcelona or Arsenal. So when the Dutchman announced he was leaving for Everton, many felt it was a sideways move by one of the best managers in the game at present.

Nevertheless, Koeman left on a high as he guided Southampton to a sixth placed finish. A well-earned spell in the Europa League awaits and the fans are looking forward to potentially playing against some of the best teams in Europe. 

Southampton got their season off to a very slow start last year and by September 20th, after a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford, they found themselves 16th in the league. 

Between November and December, Southampton went on a five game winless run, before putting four past second-place Arsenal on Boxing Day. They were beaten 2-1 by West Ham to round off 2015. 

Fonte celebrates as Arsenal are hammered by the Saints. Photo source: Dailymail
Fonte celebrates as Arsenal are hammered by the Saints. Photo source: Dailymail

Southampton had turned their fortunes around by February, after putting together a run of five wins and one draw, conceding no goals in that time. 

Koeman's men finished the season by scoring 13 goals in their last four games to clinch sixth spot in the league. 

The season ahead

Just like with Mauricio Pochettino and Koeman, Puel comes into this job as a rookie when it comes to English football. The Frenchman has only ever managed in his home country and may struggle to cope with the change in culture. However, he has been a success in his native country. After playing for Monaco, he went on to guide the club to a league title in 2000. He also took Lyon to a Champions League semi-final and finished 4th with Nice last season.

Puel has his own unique style of play and has played some attractive football over the years. He likes to use either a 3-5-2 formation or a 4-1-2-1-2 setup, meaning fans at St. Mary's may be seeing a new style of footballing being played this season. 

Puel also has a strong track record of promoting young players through the first team, which is in line with what the board want to happen at the club. 

Transfer window sees two big departures

Southampton fans have had to deal with losing some of their star players over the last few years and this has been the case once again. Victor Wanyama made his move to White Hart Lane earlier in the window, whilst Graziano Pelle became the latest player to move to China in a £13m move. 

The biggest departure of the window came when Sadio Mane left the club to join fellow teammate Adam Lallana at Liverpool in a big money move. These three players leaving the club is likely to affect to the club's chances this season but fortunately Puel has added quickly to bring in some new faces. 

Pierre Emile Hojbjerg and Nathan Redmond have been brought in to try and boost the midfield, whilst Jeremy Pied and Alex McCarthy have been signed to add depth to what is already a big squad. 

Pre-season results have been solid

Usually pre-season performances are not important, yet this summer, fans have been paying attention to how well Puel has started his Saints career. If the pre-season friendly results are anything to go by, supporters can be optimistic that this season is going to be a successful one. 

Southampton headed to Holland for their summer trip and the results were impressive. The Saints won all four of their matches, with a mix of young blood and experienced players in the side. Hojbjerg and Redmond both impressed in the games that they featured in.

Clasie in action during the pre season tour of Holland. Photo source: Saintsfc
Clasie in action during the pre season tour of Holland. Photo source: Saintsfc

Since returning home, Southampton played in front of the home fans for the first time under Puel but failed to win for the first time this summer. A 1-1 draw with Espanyol was to follow

Players to look out for 

There is a whole host of talent in this current Southampton side but a few players stand out as the ones to watch in this upcoming season.  The first player to watch is Charlie Austin

Despite Austin being well known to football fans, this season may turn out to be his best yet. With Pelle leaving, that now leaves Austin as the main striker in the squad. The 27-year-old was in lightning form at times for QPR and hopefully he can replicate that form this campaign. 

Another key player to keep an eye on this season is Cedric Soares. The Portuguese full back had a fantastic Euro 2016 campaign and recently expressed his desire to stay at the club despite interest from elsewhere. If he can continue his form into this season then he could be a massive player for Puel and the Saints this year. 

Strengths in the squad

As previously mentioned, Southampton tend to lose their better players in the summer windows when bigger clubs offer big money deals. However, the club always seems to be able to progress due to the recruitment. 

Although it is not always the multi-million pound moves that bring the club success. Southampton have always been able to promote talented young starlets through to the first team to make an impact. This may be the same this year.

There is a whole host of under-21 players that may follow the same path as that of Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Luke Shaw, if given a chance this year. 

Players such as Lloyd Isgrove and Harrison Reed have featured heavily during pre-season and may get a crack at regular first team football this year. To add to this, Marcus Barnes looks like a huge talent for the future and scored two goals last week when the under-23 side beat Bournemouth. 

Weaknesses within the team

Playing in the Europa League means you have to have a very deep squad, in order to cope with the gruelling fixture schedule. Other positions may be covered but Southampton may be slightly light when it comes to defenders. 

If all the central defenders are fit at one time, Southampton have four they can choose from. A couple of injuries in that position or at left back and Puel may be struggling to field a XI in which all players are playing in their natural positions. 

Ryan Bertrand and Matt Targett are the two first choice left backs, meaning cover may be needed in that position too. Many fans want more arrivals in the next few weeks and the addition of one or two defenders may put their minds at ease. 

Young player to watch has to be JWP

As perviously mentioned, the club has an array of young talent that could be on show this season. Firstly, there is midfielder James Ward-Prowse. The local lad has been known for a while now but is yet to establish himself a key player for the club. Now at the age of 21 and hopefully fully fit, it is now time for Ward-Prowse to show the English game what all the hype has been about. 

The youngster has had a fantastic pre-season campaign and has looked comfortable playing alongside Jordy Clasie in central midfield. 

Clasie and Ward-Prowse have been playing well. Photo source: Zimbio
Clasie and Ward-Prowse have been playing well. Photo source: Zimbio

Predicted finish

This year's Premier League season is set to be the biggest and best yet, with a whole array of managerial talent on show at a number of clubs. The race for the title, top four and Europe this year will be harder than ever, with around ten teams fighting for the last prize on that list. 

Southampton must be a whole lot better than last year if they want to repeat their achievement of sixth place but it is not completely impossible. With a few more additions in certain positions, the Saints may find themselves with the big boys come the business end of the season. 

Although, as mentioned, it will be a fierce battle this year so it is predicted they will finish in eighth position this campaign, which is still a fantastic final standing when you think where the club were around five years ago.